Book Review: My Half of the Sky by Jana Mc Burney-Lin

 

China at the turn of the twenty-first century is a rapidly evolving society. The older people had lived through violent revolution, a period of starvation in the early 1960s and the chaotic and violent cultural revolution of the late sixties and early seventies. Jana McBurney-Lin’s heroine, Li Hui experienced none of that. Born in the late seventies or early eighties, she is a relatively privileged person. She has just graduated from Hua Xia University with a degree in early childhood education. Unfortunately for Li Hui, her ne’er-do-well father, never satisfied with her, or with his own life, immediately sabotages her career by insisting that she importune the university employment counselor to assign her to Beijing or Shanghai. Li Hui finds herself unemployed and back in her home town, a small village of only one million souls.

Jana Mc Burney-Lin paints a fascinating and remarkable portrait of life in contemporary China, with all the complex interplay of ancient and modern, the competing value systems and the struggles of people to make ends meet and, if possible, to improve their lives. Madame Match-maker comes along and offers Li Hui the opportunity of a life time-marriage with Guo Quiang, a nice university professor in Singapore where she would live the life of a pampered and modern house-wife. Li Hui, however, has already given her heart to Chan Hai, an attractive young man with dimples who was also unusually kind-hearted for a young Chinese man, but whose economic prospects are less than promising.

There are some very amusing scenes of cultural interactions between Li Hui and the outlandish American woman she calls Lee Sa: “Lee Sa seemed to understand many of our customs-like the story of the elephant, the habit of drinking boiled water. Yet she also had no concept of keeping her voice down, showing a clean house, offering refreshments such as hard-boiled eggs or fresh fruit or meat buns, or refusing a gift three times. Perhaps she wasn’t as crazy as Mother-in-Law suggested. Just dim-witted.”

Anyone with an interest in contemporary Chinese culture and daily life will eagerly devour this book.

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